“Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan has fulfilled a dream on Sir Bani Yas Island. I have shared that dream for a few days.” Kai Böcking
To get out of Abu Dhabi means to dive into the middle of the desert within a few minutes. The mantra of the Bleisure insider tip with more of a discovery than an entertainment factor includes Sir Bani Yas Island – an island of the remote Desert Islands group of islands, about two to three hours’ drive (plus ferry) from Abu Dhabi.
However, this time I flew only one hour by seaplane for my short desert safari and enjoyed a fantastic view of the island paradise. Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates, had fulfilled his dream here: to turn the desert island into a nature reserve for endangered species. For more than 40 years he had about three million trees and bushes planted and almost 20,000 animals brought to the island – all species that had long been native to the desert region. The result is a paradise that many who work in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the short and long term have not yet seen.
Out of Africa moments
Only a few years ago this lonely animal island was opened up also for tourism. The Anantara Hotel Group operates three hotels here for a limited number of guests. From the ferry port, these can be reached by shuttle bus along the few tarred roads – and then you have the choice: stay at the Abu Dhabi Desert Islands Resort & Spa, the sheikh’s former guesthouse, or in one of the two eco-resorts on the beach or in the middle of the bush. I opt for the latter and thus for the Al Sahel Resort in the middle of the island’s nature park. The green driveway to the main house reminds me of a safari lodge in South Africa. Everywhere flowering bushes and lawns with peacocks and gazelles grazing. At the same time there is a typical Emirate five-star service including bar, fitness, small spa and community pool. In the restaurant “Savannah” the Kenyan chef proves to be a master of game. This is imported because there is no hunting on Sir Bani Yas Island.
With a golf buggy I reach my bush villa after a few minutes. Lined up like a string of pearls, the earth-coloured low buildings are surrounded by gnarled bushes in the middle of the savannah. In the 70 square metre villa, the four-poster bed with terrace view and the open roof beams meet traditional wooden furniture and a free-standing copper bathtub. The terrace in turn boasts a small pool, which cries out for a glass of wine in your hand to watch the animals near the villas. The Out of Africa moment here is priceless.
Natural paradise with much support
Despite their remoteness, the villas are equipped with technology such as TV, music system or mini-bar. If you want, you can also access the Internet here free of charge via WLAN. In light of the adventures waiting outside in the bush, that is no real temptation. In the late afternoon I am picked up by two rangers for the first safari and we soon meet giraffes, oryx antelopes, gazelles and even cheetahs. In huge fenced areas they are all allowed to live and hunt completely undisturbed. It is easy to forget that around each of the three million trees and bushes there is a thin black irrigation hose. Millions of litres of water are pumped from the mainland to the island every day. Outside of the water treatment plants on the island, this is the only possibility of keeping this paradise alive. Because natural water resources have not existed here for centuries. The ecology certainly is questionable – but the consequence, so as to ensure the survival of these animals, and it is a unique project on the planet.
Kai Böcking …
had already been able to get to know a different Abu Dhabi during his visit to the desert hotel Arabian Nights Village. But Sir Bani Island surprised him with its high demand for this return to a natural paradise, including the offers for a desert safari.
At a glance
Getting there: Sir Bani Island, a part of the Desert Islands, can be reached from Abu Dhabi in about two to three hours by car and a short drive by ferry and shuttle bus. Charter flights to Bani Yas can also be booked via www.seawings.ae.
Hotel: There are three Anatara hotels to choose from: The Desert Islands Resort & Spa Hotel (former guesthouse of the sheikh) with over 64 rooms, villas and suites between 52 and 200 square meters, the eco-resort Anantara Al Yamm with 30 villas between 68 and 229 square meters, some with their own pool and the Anantara Al Sahel with 30 rustic luxury villas in the bush, some with a small terrace pool. In total, the three resorts offer five restaurants and several bars. Each hotel has its own spa offers. Plus: all safaris and activities (beach surfing, mountain bike tours, trekking etc.) can be booked through the respective hotels.
Address: Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island, Al Ruwais Abu Dhabi, UAE, +971 2801 5400
Fotos: Sir Bani Yas Islands, Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel